Hong Kong’s Immigration Law Raises Concern Over Exit Ban

Hong Kong’s government passed an immigration law that raises concern it could be used to prevent dissidents from leaving the city.

The bill passed Wednesday allows the city’s immigration director to block an airline passenger or crew member from boarding a departing plane. The legislation, which takes effect on Aug. 1, also expedites the handling of refugees, including speeding up the repatriation of claimants who have been rejected.

Several prominent pro-democracy activists and politicians have fled abroad from Hong Kong in recent months to escape the threat of prosecution. The city has a pursued a flood of criminal cases against dissidents, securing a 14-month prison sentence earlier this month against media tycoon Jimmy Lai for attending unauthorized protests.

The Hong Kong Bar Association expressed concern in February that the law could give “unfettered power” to impose a travel ban and called on the government to make clear that it would not apply to Hong Kong residents. The group said Thursday it didn’t have anything to add to its earlier statements.

The government has dismissed the worries as “complete nonsense,” saying that the law is aimed at tackling a surge in refugee claims in recent years and denied it will have any impact on locals’ ability to come and go from the Asian financial center.

Hong Kong’s Immigration Law Raises Concern Over Exit Ban

The Civic Party said in a statement that it was “deeply shocked” that the law passed despite the concerns of the public.

The pro-democracy group said that if the legislation was intended to stem the flow of people to the city to claim refugee status, it should explicitly limit the government’s powers to arriving flights “to avoid the possibility the authorities expand their power to prohibit Hong Kong people from leaving in the future.”

Lawyer Michael Vidler of Vidler & Co. Solicitors said the lack of debate before the law’s passage has fed suspicions about how it will be used. “Any legislation which has been pushed through without there being proper consultation or consideration and review in light of the input by civil society is usually going to be problematic,” he said.

The U.S. State Department says in a travel advisory for China that the country uses “exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries without due process of law.” Two Australian journalists fled China last year after saying they had been initially banned from leaving.

Beijing has tightened its political grip over Hong Kong following historic and sometimes-violent protests in 2019 through measures including the imposition of a national security law last year.

Former Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui is among the people to flee clampdown, and last month arrived in Australia. He had gone to Europe while on bail for criminal charges and then traveled to the U.K.

A group of 12 Hong Kong activists was caught in August last year by the Chinese coast guard as they tried to run to democratically ruled Taiwan by speedboat. Before the voyage, 10 had been charged by Hong Kong authorities for their involvement in the demonstrations.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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